Physical inactivity, which results in conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, low mood, and high blood pressure, costs the NHS over £455 million every year – and the contribution to excess morbidity and mortality since the COVID pandemic have still to be calculated.
Exercise not only helps people with long-term conditions better manage their health but also boosts the immune system. So how can we support more people to be physically active?
People with multi morbidities are often prescribed medication as the first line of treatment, because supporting lifestyle changes may be seen as more challenging within primary care.
For over 20 years, GPs have been referring patients with long-term conditions such as type 2 diabetes to an Exercise Referral Scheme (ERS), involving aerobics and strengthening along with less strenuous mindful activities like yoga. In addition, or instead, individuals could be referred to community support to find ways to become more physically active, depending on their needs.
Despite the obvious benefits for some people who are referred and engage in schemes, figures show that overall new ways are needed to improve patient uptake and adherence, since approximately three out of every 10 patients referred don’t ever turn up to meet the exercise professional, and less than half then complete the programme.
I recently led a UK-wide team to create a web-based support package (e-coachER) to complement the usual referral scheme in Plymouth (EveryOne Active), Birmingham (BeActive) and Glasgow (LiveActive) and to assess if it was more effective in supporting an increasing device-assessed physical activity over 12 months, than the exercise referral scheme alone. The team consisted of researchers, stakeholders involved in commissioning and delivering referral schemes, and patients with experience of schemes.
Half of the recruited 450 inactive participants with chronic physical and mental health conditions received the additional e-coachER support package, and half didn’t.